“We expect the boats to be released by third week of January”
The Indian Coast Guard Ship Vishwast on Thursday evening sailed into Karaikal Port with 51 repatriated fishermen on board after a three-month long detention in Sri Lanka.
Fatigued fishermen landed on their home turf, albeit without boats. Outside the port premises, anxious families waited with anticipation for this long-due reunion.
The repatriation was marked by a swap, with 52 Sri Lankan fishermen being handed over to the Sri Lankan ship Shakthi along the IMBL.
Among the released were 21 fishermen from Karaikal, 20 fishermen from Pudukottai district and 10 fishermen from Nagapattinam district.
Nagapattinam fishermen were part of the 32-member fishing crew from Karaikal who was arrested along with their four boats on October 17.
Their remand was extended seven times by Trincomallee court, until their release this week. Pudukottai crew along with four boats was arrested on November 20. Their remand was extended twice by Mallakam court in Jaffna.
Originally, 52 fishermen were slated for release. According to Elayaperumal, Assistant Director, Fisheries, Karaikal, Ponnusamy of Pattinacherry of Karaikal had developed high BP after he was told the boats would not be handed over during repatriation. “He was hospitalised in Jaffna and later discharged. He will join the next batch. We expect the boats to be released by third week of January,” Mr. Elayaperumal said.
The fishermen were received by Commandant Udhal Singh, ICGS Karaikal, in the presence of Collector T.Munusamy and were handed over to the fisheries officials.
Speaking to The Hindu, Thiruvaraiselvan, Panchayatar, Akkarapettai, Nagapattinam said the release of fishermen and the assurance of release of boats has come timely as the families had run out of hope following the prolonged detention of boats.
For the fishermen of Nagapattinam and Karaikal, the loss of boats has been pinching since the boats were rebuilt at a higher cost post-tsunami. “Unlike the boats of Rameshwaram that cost between Rs.5 lakh to Rs. 20 lakh, boats of Nagapattinam were destroyed in the Tsunami and rebuilt at costs ranging from Rs.25 lakh to Rs.60 lakh. Families here are caught in debt, and the boats are the single source of livelihood for us. There is a family here with both its boats detained.” Incidentally, few families of Akkarapettai were brought in for community counselling by the fishing panchayat here after they hinted at collective suicide if the boats were not returned, said Mr.Thiruvaraiselvam.